Giving, Contributing, and a Full Life Part 1: Why
Have you ever cared about anybody other than yourself?
Have you ever done something good without thought of reward?
Have you ever wondered: what am I doing to make this world a better place?
You see, you can accomplish many things, earn lots of money, buy whatever you want, or achieve individual success and glory. Some people could indeed live that Life and enjoy it completely.
For many people, it becomes stale and boring after a while.
If you haven’t used any of that success to better any Lives except your own, then I believe you’re really missing out on one of the aspects that make up a Full Life – giving to others. If you’re not a natural giver, it may be time to consider why you might want to be.
What is Giving?
The first reaction many people have to a suggestion to give is to recoil with horror and something like “I don’t have enough money!”
However giving = money is a really limiting idea. If that’s all it was, most of us couldn’t give enough to make a significant difference at all.
Parting with money per se isn’t giving. Indeed, plenty of people ‘give’, either through enforced donations via a payroll deduction, or to much pomp and circumstance, as when someone makes a ‘generous’ donation but ensures that all and sundry know about it. Neither is truly giving.
Giving is having a certain heart that goes along with a genuine act. A certain attitude of kindness and generosity. A genuine want to make Life for another human being just that bit easier, happier, and with just a bit more laughter, and with no thought of reward.
If we think of “giving” as a concept and a mindset, and not just an act of parting with money, it suddenly becomes a lot easier to do.
The question then might be: WHY? Why give? Why contribute?
Part 1 will try to answer just these questions.
4 Good Reasons
1. It Feels Good!
In day-to-day living, we can get caught in the thick of things at work or business, where we spend most of our time. There can be lots of intrigue, politicking, manoeuvring, and other twists and turns that force us to take on a certain persona in order to navigate those tricky waters.
Or perhaps we’ve been hurt by someone in the past, and have adopted a selfish, taking attitude as a defence mechanism, to prevent ourselves ever feeling vulnerable again, taken advantage of, and maybe even, cheated on.
Yet, I believe there is a reservoir of untapped compassion and kindness in most good people. It’s simply a part of being human. They just might be afraid to show it. Or, they are so stressed by the daily grind that it sometimes seems easier to ‘save energy’ and not make the effort.
Just as negative emotions like anger, dissatisfaction and distress need some release, so too do the good emotions. You could choose to repress those inclinations but the longer you do so, the more you lose them. By making small contributions to others, you unlock that potential in a way that feels safe and non-threatening. How could something like a compliment to the waitress for good service hurt? How could something simple like a kind word to a stranger on the street you’ll never see again damage you? It can’t, but it does give you an outlet of release for the positive emotions in Life.
Doing good things for good people also appeals to our sense of justice. You’ve heard it lamented: bad things always happen to good people. Well, adding something positive to the Life of a good person goes a small way towards evening up the score, and appeals to our almost universal sense of justice.
Contributing reminds you that you don’t live in isolation. You are part of an ecosystem and there is an interdependence between you and the people in your social circles, including family, workplace, community and society. This gives you a sense of connection that also grounds you to a collective reality. Many successful people get so lost in themselves that they forget that there is another world out there.
Contributing is also a way to avoid hubris, that ancient bane of kings and queens of old. Very often, people who achieve great success can become arrogant and unsympathetic to those who are struggling. Helping those less supported, talented, or even lucky gives you humility, and you’ll actually enjoy and appreciate your own success more. You’ll also be reminded of the people who helped you get where you are and enjoy feelings of gratitude. Perhaps, it’ll bring back bittersweet memories too. And selfishly speaking, remember that pride comes before a fall.
3. Be an Example
Having a Full Life has a positive impact on others. Either because the way you live it directly contributes to other people or because you serve as an inspiration. What better way than if your acts of kindness serve as powerful examples. If we can influence people around us, one at a time, we can really start to affect people at large.
We live in a very stressful society. We are stressed in school; we are stressed at work. We are stressed when we rush for a parking space; we are stressed when we squeeze like sardines on a stinky, peak-hour MRT train. At times like this, kindness can break the vicious cycle of frustration, consternation, misery and anger, collectively shared by all. One kind act can spark off another and break this vicious interplay of negative emotions and perhaps, influence people around you to “leggo the aggro”.
Kindness is contagious. We often feel good when we see kindness in action and so we go out and what to do the same ourselves. At the very least, we refrain from an unkind act or word for the next five minutes. That has to count for something!
4. Quality Relationships
When you help people you develop empathy, the ability to understand and respond to the feelings of others. This is very useful in your own relationships as you realize you’re not the only important person, and learn to relate to others based on their emotional needs. Tell me that this won’t make you a better parent, spouse, child, co-worker, team member, or simply, person on the street.
Finally, in developing these qualities, attitudes and mindsets you will attract similar people into your Life. I learnt about this when I was 7. I did not have a full conceptualization of what friendship was, but I did have a natural tendency to be giving. True, many people took advantage of that because I had not developed the discerning abilities I do now. But I also attracted lots of good people into my Life too, and that’s a happy theme that has continued to this day.
As your circle expands with the inclusion of giving, compassionate and positive people, you will find they displace the people in your Life who are selfish, mean, and taking. And because we are very much influenced by each other, our Lives can only become better as the quality of people in it improves too.
3 Great Reasons
So those are general but very good ideas why giving and contributing to other people can add to your Life. For most people, those are reasons enough to kickstart your journey to becoming a more giving person.
What I have observed in some people, however, goes beyond that. For them being kind and doing good is a very deep and personal mission. This force underlies many of their actions, some of which might seem inexplicable or even extreme, especially to people who have no concept of giving in the first place.
Here are three driving forces that motivate people to go beyond the norm, and who knows, you might find one of them in you, too!
Paying It Forwards
I have been a big believer in paying it forwards for over 20 years. What’s this mean?
Paying it forwards means that when someone does something good for you, you might not always be able to repay that favour. But you make it a point to do the same for someone else should you have that opportunity in future.
In other words, it’s a practical way to practise gratitude in the most practical of ways – by taking your benefactor’s original gesture and passing it on. Often you may never be able to repay your original benefactor. They may have moved on or sadly, passed on. But you can help others. You can use their kindness a springboard of motivation to do the same for someone else. This is especially helpful if you have never been a giver, but wish to make that important transition if you’ve been a taker most of your Life.
Think about it. Everyone has had help from someone else when they started at something. Think about the mistakes you made when you started work, your business, a family. But it can also be for something less earth shaking too. What about when you were learning a language, learning a game, or even starting a hobby?
One of the biggest impacts a stranger made on me was when I was in secondary 2, waiting at a void deck for a heavy rain to stop. This woman just gave me an umbrella and said “I have another.” I asked how I could return it to her, and she said, don’t worry about it.
For a month I returned to the same spot every morning, hoping to catch her, but I never saw her again. She must have known she would not be getting that umbrella back. Yet that one act made a longlasting impression on me. Now, 25 years later, I’m doing the same. Not to the same person, not even the same act, but with the same spirit.
I don’t know if you believe in karma, the ideas that Life is a circle, or whether you think it sounds like a bunch of BS. But I think you’ll agree that the idea of symmetry is a pleasing and elegant one. If everyone were to do something positive in gratitude for a positive kindness accepted, this would be perpetuated and there’d be a lot more good acts out there.
Make Meaning Backwards
In Life, people undergo events and experiences that aren’t always the most pleasant to have. Many of us are able to brave through it, then move on.
At times however, some of these experiences affect us greatly. They may be so traumatic, shocking, debilitating, or Life changing that years later, the only way to make it worthwhile is to make sure others benefit from your Life lessons. In fact, for many people it’s the only way to rationalize why something bad happens to good people – so that they can pass these Life lessons on.
This is not just a very powerful motivator to help others, as in single acts of kindness or service. It’s a very potent driver for developing mentoring relationships. You don’t ever want anyone else to go through the same pain you did, or if it has happened, you want to be able to offer the strongest support and the best shortcuts to minimize that pain. This requires a more involved, invested process that sees you guiding someone over a period of time.
What might some of these significant triggers be, that motivate such a process? Here are some events/ experiences most commonly cited as the greatest stressors in Life that might do it.
- Marrying the wrong person
- Being cheated on
- Sustaining a life changing injury
- A business failing
- Death of parents
- Having a baby
- Serious illness
- Surviving a heart attack
- Losing a job
- Moving house
- Being convicted for a crime
- Sitting through a professional exam
As you can imagine, any of these involves great turmoil, including the physical, emotional, and financial. What you learn about dealing with these would obviously be of great value in the future for someone else facing similar challenges. Only time and opportunity will determine if this is something you’d be motivated to share.
Leaving a Legacy
At some point in time, even the most selfish people start to think about leaving some sort of legacy. It’s about how you wish to be remembered. It’s about making a significant enough contribution that you – and others – can say that you have not lived in vain, and that your existence counted for something.
I’m sure in Life, you’ve met people who had an impact on you. This impact can be of two very different sorts. The more desirable is of course, pleasant associations in which you remember them as having added to your Life and those of others around you. The less desirable who have made so little impact and added so little that – were they to disappear tomorrow – wouldn’t be missed. Even more tragic might be those whose disappearance would actually be cheered. I don’t think I want to belong there. I hope you don’t, too.
What sort of legacy do you want to leave? What do you want to be remembered for? This is a very important question, especially as it relates to living a full Life. That’s because leaving something behind to be remembered by isn’t about doing one or two acts here and there. It’s about how you have lived your Life, created your personal brand. This is not something you can fake with a false smile, or buy with a grandiose and public donation of money. This is something years in the making.
Here are many ways to leave a legacy, but in the area of service and contribution a few of them are:
- Having and raising children who were well-balanced, great citizens, of good moral value
- Great service performed for a large number of people, such as country or group of people. Think Abraham Lincoln, Mother Theresa or Florence Nightingale, people we have heard of even here in Asia.
- Creation of works that endure and influence generations to come, such as plays, books, films, music, inventions. Think Alfred Hitchcock, William Shakespeare, Mozart, and Thomas Edison.
- Creation of bodies which benefitted a large number of people, such as institutions, schools, companies, and religions. Think here of people like Steve Jobs, Maria Montessori, and John D Rockefeller.
Mine are more modest, but at least I know mine: it has to do with my two guiding principles in Life. I want to be known as:
- Someone who epitomized continuous and never ending improvement, in all aspects, be it physical, emotional, mental, financial, social and relationships. Someone who was not a one-dimensional cutout, but a renaissance man wannabe who lived Life, gained experiences, learnt continuously.
- Someone for whom adding something positive the Lives of good people was a way of Life, not a punchline. Some who did it without ulterior motives other than to add a bit of light and happiness to the people he cared about, a True Friend who was loyal and never proved false.
So there are many reasons that contributing to other people’s Lives enrich our own.
What will yours be?
The next question is, HOW to begin?
That’s what we’ll look at in Part 2.